Radioactive Reindeer! Is the Bizarre Situation Not Improving?

Oct 06, 2014 07:23 PM EDT

Even nearly three decades after the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, grazing animals in Norway are still feeling the effects. Reindeer in particular have seen a stunning amount of radioactive contamination, boasting disturbing and inordinate levels of the radioactive substance Caesium-137. Alarmingly, this most current season had led to surprisingly high levels of radioactive concentration.

In a recent "State of the Environment, Norway" report,  it was shown that reindeer from Våga reinlag AS, in Jotunheimen, central Norway were contaminated with very high concentrations of Caesium-137 - about 8,200 becquerel per kilogram (Bq/kg).

In comparison, the same region's reindeer boasted a concentration only about a sixth of that in 2012.

The same went for sheep this year, as a max concentration of 4,500 Bq/kg of sheep flesh was seen to be contaminated with radiation.

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According to Norway's English paper, The Local, government officials and experts from the Norway Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA) say that only sheep with a contamination level of 600 Bq/kg or lower is safe enough for human consumption. Likewise, similar levels of radiation can be found in some US tap water.

So what's making these livestock and reindeer so radioactive this year?

Lavrans Skuterud of the NRPA told The Local that this year's concentration was so "extreme" because of an unusually long lasting mushroom growing season, particularly for the gypsy mushroom (Cortinarius Caperatus), a favorite snack of local reindeer which can absorb a lot of radioactivity from ash and soil blown in from Chernobyl.

Still, it's not all bad news. Caesium-137 has a half life of a little more than 30 years. Give these far-traveling radioactive ashes another few years and they won't be problem for Norway's reindeer.

Still, until that happens, not much can be done except closely monitor contamination levels.

The NRPA reports that measurements conducted during the first winter months after the Chernobyl tragedy showed "levels of up to 13,000 Bq/kg Caesium-137 in reindeer meat. The high levels were due to intake of radioactive caesium from contaminated lichen."

Now, however, those levels have been on a steady and encouraging decline, with only small spikes during the growing seasons, like in the case of this past report.

"All radioactive waste will be handled safely and in an approved manner," the NRPA said.

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